As parents, we instinctively want to make things easy on our kids, but making sure they are faced with appropriate challenges is one of the best things we can do for them. Tackling a challenge builds self-esteem and teaches new skills, resilience and perseverance.
This past summer, I organized a challenge-a-day project for my son that turned out to be really great. Not only were the challenges fun, they exposed him to new experiences and helped him learn new skills. By the end, he was doing all kinds of things that he didn't think he was capable of and, by repeatedly tackling challenges, he internalized the idea that he can, in fact, achieve things that seem hard. A challenge-a-day program can also be great for kids with sensory issues, anxiety or other struggles since it allows them to slowly build up tolerance to desired tasks.
If you'd like to try a challenge-a-day project like my family did, here's what you need to know:
Start out by making a list of activities that you think your child would particularly benefit from.
Make sure the activities are fun and feel like adventures rather than chores.
Create challenges in several categories: physical, academic, behavioral (chores, manners, etc.) and skills. I picked projects that required dedication and long periods of focused attention since that is something my child finds hard.
Pick activities that are just outside of your child's reach, but not impossible.
Allow your child to come up with a few ideas for challenges.
Repeat challenges that are particularly tough for your child. Start out easy and increase the expectation each time.
Spread the challenges out by type and difficulty. That way, no week feels too daunting or too easy.
Give rewards. Acknowledge a hearty attempt as well as full accomplishment, based on the idea that effort is what really counts. I gave my son a small prize for five attempts in a week and a slightly larger reward for five successes.
Stay positive. Keep the mood light and reward effort, trying not to criticize "failure".
The challenges you create should be tailored to your own child, and will depend on age, stage and personality. But here are highlights from our challenge calendar for inspiration:
Shoot a basket
Go on a hike
Learn to ride a bike
Catch a ball with a mitt
Tread water for one minute
Do 30 subtraction problems
Write a story
Write one page in best handwriting
Learn about Newton's laws
Write and act out a short play
Set the table
Use best table manners
Have a screen-free day
Walk the dog alone
Try to ride a unicycle
Make a kite
Dunk your head
Identify a constellation